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Roundup 10-5-2018

October 4, 2018


Transportation – Some More

— Brightline

— The Opinion

— Westshore Transportation Plan

— When You Want To

— Downtowner

— Another Example

Tampa Heights – More Heights

Hyde Park – Another Hotel

Downtown – Still Underwhelming

Airport – Cheap In a Good Way and More

Rays/Rowdies – Interesting

MOSI – Better

Downtown/Channel District – Cranes

Meanwhile, in the Rest of the Country

Woz Not Woz


Transportation – Some More

— Brightline

There has been much speculation regarding what Brightline’s potential plans for a line between Tampa and Orlando might be.  St. Pete Catalyst had a report that provided some more information from the vice president of government affairs for Brightline:

A train to Tampa would stop downtown and would not run to Tampa International Airport or St. Petersburg, O’Malley said.  A train to St. Petersburg would be too expensive, he said.

But connections to other points in the Tampa Bay area are important, he said, and Brightline is counting on public initiatives, such as planned bus rapid transit routes,  to provide that service.

* * *

Although Brightline does not plan to bring a high-speed train to St. Petersburg, the city plays a key role in Brightline’s expansion plans for Tampa.

“St. Pete is an important market. We think a lot of our travelers will want to come from Orlando to the Tampa Bay area to go to St. Pete Beach,” said Bob O’Malley, vice president of government affairs for Brightline, a privately owned and operated rail system based in Miami.

Setting aside for a moment what you might think of the “BRT” plan, as we have pointed out previously (See “Transportation – All Over — Brightline”), two of the three discussed sites for a downtown Tampa station are not particularly near the proposed “BRT” route.  (That is really one on the issues with the interstate based “BRT” plan.)

“We want to work with the region to improve connectivity from downtown Tampa to St. Pete Beach, so we’ll be part of the conversations on regional BRT or whatever premium transit opportunities there are,” O’Malley told St. Pete Catalyst. “We have partnerships with Lyft and we’re always looking to find other ways to improve connectivity to our stations.”

We would suggest telling officials to, at a minimum, build real BRT, but, as we said, we are setting that aside for the moment.

In any event,

A Brightline trip between Tampa and the Orlando airport, where Brightline plans a stop, would take about 60 minutes, compared to driving, which can range from 90 minutes to three hours, depending on traffic, O’Malley said. The train would run at about 125 miles an hour, and he expects about 16 trains a day between the two cities. The price would be comparable to the cost of driving, taking into account both the cost of gas and hidden expenses such as wear-and-tear on a car.

* * *

But rail is still a “lightning rod” for controversy, and an Orlando-to-Tampa route is far from a done deal, O’Malley cautioned, citing several challenges that remain to be overcome.

Among them, an agreement from the state of Florida to use right-of-way in the Interstate 4 corridor. “They are accepting bids from other companies and they will evaluate those and negotiate with whoever they deem to be the best,” he said.

While there’s a lot of interest in the investment community for the private activity bonds, and the initial offering was oversubscribed, the next round of bonds has yet to be sold, he cautioned.

We will find out what the state decides in November, though we still think by far the most likely outcome is Brightline winning the route.

— The Opinion

The Times ran an opinion piece by the Mayor of Tampa entitled: “Buckhorn: Tampa Bay needs higher-speed rail”  which advocated in favor of Brightline connecting to Tampa. It began like this:

Eight years ago, Florida missed an opportunity to connect Tampa and Orlando with a high-speed rail system. We cannot afford to make the same mistake again.

Traffic congestion and reliable means of transportation are two of the top concerns of almost every citizen I meet. Long commutes affect people’s lives, taking away time from their families, and lack of connectivity to jobs limits their opportunities. The city of Tampa is working with public and private sector partners to improve mobility. Making the right decisions today will keep Tampa moving in the right direction for decades to come.

Which is also fine, except long commutes have little to do with inter-city rail. (Unless he is saying that I-4 will be less congested – which it won’t.  As best, especially with all the population growth and without local transportation alternatives not reliant on that road, the congestion will just increase more slowly.) Implying that Brightline inter-city rail will go towards fixing local transit/transportation issues risks confusing the two issues, which are related but separate.

A little later the piece said this:

I wanted to ride Brightline to see how it could meet our transportation needs, and I was extremely impressed. The trains and the stations were modern, comfortable and clean. Brightline would be a valuable addition to our region’s transportation system. I was also impressed with the transit-oriented development happening near the Brightline stations.

And that, too, is fine.  But then we get to this:

Connecting Tampa and Orlando would increase job growth and workforce connectivity. Furthermore, having Florida’s three largest cities connected by higher-speed rail will be good for the entire state’s economy.

And it is true that connecting Tampa and Orlando would do those things, though Brightline, like the previous high-speed rail proposal, really will not connect Tampa and Orlando.  It will connect Tampa and Orlando’s airport, which has decent access to Lake Nona but more time-consuming and complicated access to Orlando proper.  (Real inter-city rail is between cities, like Brightline is in South Florida.) While we are for the Brightline connection (more for the connections to the rest of the state), the failure to be truly city-to-city is an obvious weakness in the plan as it relates to Orlando.

Speaking more generally, it is actually counterproductive to create unrealistic expectations because when those unrealistic expectations are not met, support for other important projects will lessen.  Additionally, as we said above, when local transportation needs are conflated with a system that has little to do with them, it leads to more confusion (as if there could be more) in the discussion and consideration of transportation issues.  That makes getting things done even harder.

We are for connecting to Brightline, but the discussion should be kept clear.

— Westshore Transportation Plan

We did not get to this when it first came out, but now seems a good time.  The Westshore Alliance is asking the MPO to integrate a (modest) transportation plan into the bigger plan. First, the rhetoric:

The Westshore Alliance plans include a series of road improvements paired with mobility options on transit, bikes and through walkable corridors. The multifaceted approach is a staple in urban planning, where officials must balance the needs of people commuting by car with those who favor multimodal options, which accounts for a growing portion of young professionals.

That is pretty standard fare.  So what is in it?

The plan, which the Alliance will present during the Wednesday MPO meeting, shows three major changes that incorporate transit and walkability features. One slide shows Cypress Point Park as a transit hub with bike racks, bike share and potential ferry dock.

While Cypress Point Park is along a trail the goes to the Courtney Campbell Causeway, it really is not particularly near most of the development in the Westshore area, which makes it a slightly odd place to have a transit hub.  If a ferry did land there a hub would make a little more sense, but it is also an odd place to have a ferry land because 1) it is a park where people go in the water/swim (which is not safe); 2) the water is very shallow; and 3) as noted, it is kind of far from most things in Westshore (though it is close to the airport).  If ferries to Westshore are a priority (for us they are not), aside from the airport access, there are other areas south of the Howard Frankland, near the Mariner office park land, that seem to make more sense (though the ferry would have to go by some houses).

The Alliance proposes a bike boulevard along Gray Street and Grady Avenue as a neighborhood trail.

In theory, that is a fine idea.  East of Westshore, Gray goes almost all the way downtown (though not all the way, and not to Cypress Point Park, though some changes to SR60 may make that possible in the future, though likely not on Gray which runs into the mall.).  But what exactly are they talking about?

Gray Street now:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

The Plan:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

Grady now:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

The Plan:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

First, the changes to Gray Street portrayed are exactly the kind of bike infrastructure we don’t like.  Simply painting some pictures on a road, even a residential street, does not make it a bike trail.  Moreover, the Gray Street “after” picture above has a lot of grass between the road and the sidewalk.  If a bike trail is ok, why not put a real bike lane there?  Additionally, Gray Street has speed bumps, which is hardly optimal. (Neither is dealing with all the driveways).  And the other question: did anyone ask the residents of Gray Street, which is a predominantly residential road, if they want a major bike path going down their street? (Presumably, the speed humps are because residents did not want cut-through traffic on their road. Maybe they don’t care about funnel bikes down their street, but that is not clear.) Not to mention, once you get to Westshore on your bike, what do you do?

We like the Grady concept more, at least in the picture.  It is much more a trail, though it does not seem to really go anywhere to be useful.

We are in no way opposed to the idea of creating useful bike infrastructure in Westshore. (Actually, we are all for it.) We just want it to be useful.

The first phase of the Alliance’s project is already underway and is expected to continue through 2020 with construction on approved projects launching in 2021. In the meantime, the Alliance is raising public awareness by meeting with employers and residents.

The group also plans to promote circulator and express bus options that would support transit and transportation in the district as well as partner with local businesses to offer rideshare discounts or vouchers to employees.

Construction on the Alliance’s proposed projects is expected to take five years.

We are unclear what the first phase (or other phases are).  We do not have any theoretical problem with either circulators or express buses.  Once again, the devil is in the details.

The biggest problem is that Westshore is not built to be walkable/bikeable.  The buildings themselves (including the new ones) are far too car-centric.  We get that you have to start somewhere and we are not opposed to the general concepts of the plan as presented in the article, but the implementation needs to be useful and there needs to be far more focus on the actual built environment.

— When You Want To

Speaking of bike routes, there was news about the western leg of the Green Spine project:

Downtown Tampa’s protected bikeway, the Green Spine cycle-track, will be extended sooner than expected into West Tampa.

A new stormwater improvement assessment fee approved by Tampa City Council in September allows the city to proceed with its Cypress Street Outfall Extension project.

To avoid ripping up the road twice, the City of Tampa has decided to build the Green Spine at the same time it installs a new box culvert that will drain the road after heavy rains.

That is Phase 2 on this map:

From North Hyde Park Alliance – click on picture for Facebook page

First, doing everything at once makes sense.  There is no reason to rip up the road twice, and the project is definitely worthwhile.  Some more detail:

The project is located on Cass Street between Rome and Boulevard, and along Rome Avenue from Kennedy to Cass.

Added bonus:

By tying Green Spine Phase 2 in with the stormwater work, the opportunity has been created for the Green Spine Phase 3B segment to be next in line for available grant funds.

Phase 3B will run along Nuccio Parkway from Nebraska Avenue to 7th Avenue and now prioritized as the first segment to be funded for construction.

Those things are good.

On a side note, the merit of doing it all at once does not change the oddness that, a few months ago, Tampa was looking at a deficit and now they are moving forward with the project.  We are sure it did not hurt that both redeveloping West Tampa/West River/North Hyde Park and promoting biking are close to the Mayor’s heart.  Nor did it hurt that doing it early may create the opportunity to get grants for other phases faster.  And it does not change in any way that doing it now is a good idea and makes sense.  It just goes to the bigger idea that it is amazing what happens when something is truly prioritized (as this project should be).

In any event, in this instance, good for the City. (Though we would be remiss if we did not point out that this is just another reason to insist on retail in new projects along Rome.)

— Downtowner

Along with the Downtown Special Service District, the Downtowner, has expanded.

The Tampa Heights neighborhood is now part of Tampa’s Downtown Special Services District, opening up more connections and business opportunities.

* * *

This allows businesses such as Armature Works and The Hall on Franklin to have enhanced services like the district’s downtown clean team, beautification efforts, transportation planning and urban design.

“That includes the ever-popular Downtowner service, which is starting in the Tampa Heights area today,” Remund said.

The free electric Downtowner shuttle has more than 350,000 passengers to date; that’s about 500 passengers a day. The extended line will allow it to service areas north of Interstate 275.  

That is a positive thing.  Of course, it would have been better if the original private service had been allowed to thrive rather than killed by government only to be reborn as a tax supported service, but it is good nonetheless.

The main hubs for the Downtowner will be the Hall on Franklin and between Ulele and Armature Works, said Karen Kress, a transportation expert with the Tampa Downtown Partnership, while riding the trolley. She said they will start shifting their focus on having more parking options as well as pick-up/drop-off designated areas for ridesharing companies.

That is logical enough for now.  As the area changes, the service will obviously have to change, especially if the streetcar is ever expanded and modernized.

— Another Example

It’s time for another of the depressingly regular examples of why running on the highway or on shoulders is a bad idea (and also a good reason not to spend all our money on roads and road based transit options).  Sadly, our example this week involves a very bad accident that involved a death and multiple serious injuries.

From Tuesday:

All lanes of I-75 and Fowler Avenue are closed in both directions due to a fiery crash, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

FHP says that a tractor-trailer hauling tomatoes was traveling southbound on I-75 around 4:08 p.m. Tuesday when the driver lost control, resulting in a crash at I-75 and Fowler Avenue. The tractor-trailer continued off the interstate, down onto Fowler Avenue, according to FHP.

It is I-75, but crazy and tragic stuff happens on all our highways.

Tampa Heights – More Heights

Last week we discussed the first proposed office building in the Heights.  This week, there is more news about proposals for one block south.  From UBRN Tampa Bay:

Last week it was reported that The Heights District would be pursuing development entitlements for two office buildings. They have now filed the request for those entitlements. In addition, however, The Heights has filed for a 30,000 square foot grocery store, 7,400 square feet of retail space, and a hotel. The site plan is attached.

Here is a site plan:

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post and a bigger version

We are not sure about the detail (what grocery store, what hotel), but looking at the site plan, it appears (though we are not complete sure yet) that there will be some type of garage connected to the retail/hotel elements.  We will have to see more details to develop a full opinion, but it looks promising (and we are sure many people will be very happy for the grocery store).

Hyde Park – Another Hotel

Per URBN Tampa Bay:

A new hotel is being proposed across from The Epicurean Hotel, Autograph Collection in SoHo.

The hotel project is being proposed for 1232 South Howard Ave. The project includes 56 hotel rooms in two structures: a 4-story hotel directly across Howard from The Epicurean and a 2-story guest house concept which will be called “The Mansion.” The project features 106 parking spaces (105 required) which will provide parking for the hotel rooms, the existing apartments on the site, Bern’s Steak House, and a small amount of storage space.

There are massing/general layout drawings, but not real renderings:

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post and a bigger version

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post and a bigger version

And a site plan of sorts:

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post and a bigger version

You can see more here.

It is a bit difficult to see what is going on in the drawings, but it appears that the ground floor on Howard will include an entrance (and maybe something more, though it is not clear). As a general concept, we are ok with another project built to the street with some ground floor activation across from the Epicurean.  However, it is hard to have a real opinion when the information is a bit thin.  We look forward to seeing more.

Downtown – Still Underwhelming

There was news about a townhouse project in the north end of downtown:

A small townhouse development along one of downtown Tampa’s most active construction corridors is moving forward.

Ariel Homes has closed on two vacant parcels of land at 205 E. Fortune St., between North Franklin and North Tampa streets. The builder paid $2.15 million for the property, which is around 18,000 square feet.

The group is planning 14 four-story townhouses on the site with open rooftop decks, according to plans filed with the city. The homes will range from 1,600 to 3,000 square feet and be priced from the $700,000s to $1.2 million, a representative from Ariel Homes said Tuesday.

This is the view from Tampa Street:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

The developer described it like this:

“Though per the current zoning code, a more intense project could be constructed at this location, the developer’s interest is in designing and constructing a high quality, for-sale project that is in scale and compatible with its nearest neighbors,” the builder wrote in plans filed with the city.

When this project first came up we said this:

Built somewhere else, this project could be fine (assuming the details were ok).  However, given this is in downtown (not even north of the Interstate), it is probably out of place (even though there are a few townhouses just to the south on Franklin, we still think it is probably out of place) And we totally agree with URBN Tampa Bay about the driveways.  (And note, it touches Tampa Street, though it does not face it.  Rather, it just puts has walls and an alley.  We do not think that really is what Tampa Street downtown should be)

While we are dubious, we reserve final judgment until we see the whole thing. However, it would be better to just rework it into a truly urban proposal and be done with it.

(See “Downtown – Underwhelming”)

Regardless of their explanation, it appears that nothing has changed either in the size or the design.  Consequently, our view has not changed.

Airport – Cheap In a Good Way and More

We ran across an article regarding airport parking rates.  Apparently, Tampa International’s rates are quite the bargain:

While the price of paid transportation options like taxis and Uber tends to be more or less the same in most parts of the country, the price of airport parking varies widely.

Just how widely? A new report from TravelBank ranked the country’s most and least expensive airports, based on a combination of their rates for both short-term and long-term parking.

First, the airports with sky-high rates …

The Most Expensive Airport Parking

1. New York LaGuardia – $59/day short term; $39/day long term
2. Boston Logan – $70/day short term; $26/day long term
3. Seattle-Tacoma – $37/day short term; $30/day long term
4. San Francisco – $36/day short term; $25/day long term
5. (Tie) New York Kennedy – $39/day short term; $18/day long term
5. (Tie) Newark Liberty – $39/day short term; $18/day long term

And, at the other end of the cost spectrum …

The Least Expensive Airport Parking
1. (Tie) Orlando – $17/day short term; $10/day long term
1. (Tie) Charlotte Douglas – $20/day short term; $7/day long term
2. Houston George Bush – $22/day short term; $6/day long term
3. Baltimore Washington – $22/day short term; $8/day long term
4. (Tie) Tampa – $22/day short term; $10/day long term
4. (Tie) Denver – $24/day short term; $8/day long term
5. Honolulu – $18/day short term; $15/day long term

We just thought you might be interested.

In other news, Contour Airlines announced plans for service to Macon.  You can get the details here.

Rays/Rowdies – Interesting

As people who follow sports will know, there was news that the Rays are buying the Rowdies.

The Rays struck a surprising and curious deal to buy the Rowdies they say was made only to get into the soccer business and has no connection to the effort to find new home for their baseball team.

Of course, the announcement led to speculation about the Rays efforts to move to Ybor and about the future of the Rowdies in St. Pete.

The deal includes at least short-term control of downtown waterfront Al Lang Stadium. The Rays tried a decade ago to get a new baseball stadium built there and never fully let go of the idea — which is why there was immediate speculation there was more to the Rays-Rowdies deal than just control of a soccer team.

Most pointedly, were the Rays seeking an alternative St. Petersburg stadium site to their proposed new home in Ybor City, where talks have been ongoing to bridge the funding gap in completing that $892 million deal to build a Tampa ballpark?

Another possibility: Were the Rays considering moving their spring training base back to St. Petersburg from Port Charlotte, or perhaps moving in a minor-league team?

Rays president Brian Auld told St. Petersburg officials it was none of the above. This was just an opportunity to buy the soccer team from businessman Bill Edwards and grow their overall business.

We tend to believe that for a number of reasons nicely laid out in a Times column:

It’s true the Rowdies’ lease at Al Lang Stadium is up in 2020, and so the soccer team would be free to move to Tampa if the Ybor stadium opens as scheduled in 2023. But there would likely be logistical problems with the artificial turf, not to mention scheduling problems for sports that overlap.

* * *

The Ybor stadium still has massive financial hurdles that must be navigated, but that does not change the dynamics that killed the St. Pete waterfront plan proposed by the Rays in 2008. It would take a referendum to allow new construction on the Al Lang site, the stadium would have to be crammed in a small area, and there’s still the question of whether St. Pete can support Major League Baseball.

So where does that leave us?

With a much more boring explanation.

It’s possible this was a deal the Rays simply could not pass up. No one is talking publicly about the purchase price, but there are whispers the Rowdies were sold dirt cheap.

If that’s the case, the purchase makes more sense. The Rays have experience running a sports franchise, and already have infrastructure in place for marketing, ticketing, training staff and other departments. That would seemingly give them a better shot at turning a profit than Rowdies owner Bill Edwards.

There is not much to add to that (except the Rowdies should go back to their iconic traditional uniforms.  See number 2 here). The purchase is interesting, but, at least for now, really nothing more than that. (If you are interested, you can read more here, here, and here)

MOSI – Better

While we are all waiting to see when (not if) MOSI will move downtown, its financial picture has improved:

The Museum of Science and Industry has made a major turnaround and is about to close on the year with more than $500,000 in surplus.

In 2016, MOSI closed with a $1.5 million loss. In FY 2017, under new CEO Julian Mackenzie’s leadership, it delivered a $90,000 profit despite closing for six weeks during the year.

* * *

He attributes the success to a combination of multiple factors such as having a conservative budget and the result of being in a smaller footprint.

MOSI has made significant changes since Mackenzie’s arrival. The museum decreased its physical footprint by nearly 90 percent and concentrated on bringing in new exhibits. “The team and I went through and decided what we wanted to keep and not keep,” Mackenzie said.  

While it is good to have an improved bottom line, the purpose of a museum is not just to make money (though we are not downplaying balancing the books). We are curious how the attendance is doing.

Downtown/Channel District – Cranes

Because we can, here is a picture of the tower cranes at the JW Marriott site:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

It is nice to see.

And some promotional material from Water Street with a rendering of the full final product:

From Tampa’s Time at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post and a bigger version

From Tampa’s Time at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post and a bigger version

Very nice.

Meanwhile, in the Rest of the Country

There was an interesting article in the Seattle Times (here) regarding transit usage in Seattle.

The number of area residents commuting by transit has surged to a record high in 2017, new census data show.

More than 200,000 people in our metro area — a little more than 10 percent of the workforce — typically commuted by public transit last year. Since 2010, we’ve experienced the second-biggest increase in the share of transit commuters among the 50 largest U.S. metro areas, behind San Francisco.

* * *

The reason that Seattle is bucking the trend is no mystery. We’ve invested more heavily in transit than any other region, and it’s paying off. Even before the passage of the Sound Transit 3 package, the Seattle area was spending more, per capita, on new transit projects than any city in the country.

* * *

“There’s a theory out there that in the PNW, we have retained a better cross section of income levels on public transit than other cities, aiding our ability to garner public support to invest,” he said in an email. “Some cities I think it’s just a lifeline service for the poorest of the poor.”

We get that this cuts both ways, but the point is that for transit to be successful, it has to be useful.  It should attract choice riders.  Simply building some system because it is the cheapest thing you can figure out is not enough.

Woz Not Woz

Speaking of transit, one of the founders of Apple had some interesting comments on autonomous cars.

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak said on Tuesday that he has “lost faith” that self-driving cars are going to see widespread use in the near future.

Speaking at Mastercard’s “Connecting Tomorrow” event in Barcelona, Wozniak said that he still does not believe that the artificial intelligence systems needed for self-driving vehicles would be able to cope with the realities of driving on roads alongside manually operated vehicles.

“They have to drive on human roads. If they had train tracks, [there would be] no problem at all,” he said. “I don’t believe that that sort of ‘vision intelligence’ is going to be like a human.”

As an example of where he believes self driving vehicles will struggle, Wozniak pointed to the possibility of impromptu signs being put up by police near roads.

“Artificial intelligence in cars is trained to spot everything that is normal on the roads, not something abnormal,” he said. “They aren’t going to be able to read the words on signs and know what they mean. I’ve really given up.”

(More here) Is that the last word on the subject? No. (A lot of money is being put into autonomous cars, like here) But it adds to the growing skepticism that in the near future autonomous vehicles are going to replace all transportation. Simply saying wait until they do is not a transportation/transit plan.

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